Me and You and That Guy
December 14, 2013 6:34 AM   Subscribe

I can't stand my sister's boyfriend. He's coming for Christmas. They're inseparable. Now what?

My sister is finishing her PhD multiple states away from where the rest of the family lives. She has been dating the same guy for about four of those years. Developing a reliable social network where she is has been difficult for her, so I was excited to initially meet the guy, but this has since been replaced by frustration and loathing.

First, I want to say that I know who my sister dates is ultimately none of my business and I would never tell her what I think of her boyfriend unless asked point blank, but I don't think he is right for her at all. They are not equals in the relationship (esp. emotionally and intellectually) and I am constantly seeing his life issues creating unnecessary stress for her on top of her PhD work. He almost no social life outside of her, and my sister has complained that she frequently feels that she needs to make sure everyone in her social group is having fun, but doesn't seem to connect that with him. When he first met my family a year or so ago, he would sit in our living room messing with his phone and not really interact with anyone but my sister. He then came to a birthday party for me and announced after near total silence that a toast I’d made was rude because I’d toasted my guests with a glass of water (it was the only thing at hand at the time). I know for a fact that my sister has told him we (the family) share a lot of similar interests with him, but he is short on listening or asking questions of others and long in talking about himself and what he likes to do, and will even flee from the room if it is just him and my father in it. I have sincerely tried to get to know him and to understand what it is that makes their relationship special to them, but I come away disliking him more and more. I've made more of a meaningful connection with people in 15 minutes of chatting than I've made with him after days of activity.

None of this would matter except that now in order to spend any time with my sister, I must also spend time with him. This is now reaching its peak with the announcement that the boyfriend will be coming home with my sister for Christmas. A lot of the details have not been explained yet, but as there is no one the boyfriend knows in our town that he does not know through my sister, it is clear that he will be spending that week either at our house with us or out with my sister doing things.

I consider myself pretty close to my sister. We understand each other on a level that other people don’t, and I really value the time we spend hanging out… time that we’re not going to have because the boyfriend is always going to be there. I only see my sister a few times a year, so I’d like to make the most of it, but right now my plan for coping with the boyfriend is to attempt to stay away as much as possible, which is going to be both difficult (everyone is going to notice if I’m not there at the tree or the dinner table or whatever) and a total bummer (losing precious hangout time with my sister). I definitely don’t want to start a fight or cause bad feelings either. I don’t know what else I can do about this though. My father says we need to accept him and prepare for him to become part of the family… which would be awful, but again, has nothing to do with me.

Is there any strategy that I can pursue that isn’t “hide until he/they leave” this Christmas, or do I need to grit my teeth and deal with it?

Thank you in advance
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You need to grit your teeth and deal with it. Or, here's a thought...learn to find some of the qualities in this guy that your sister sees and try to get along with him.

He sounds more socially awkward than anything, and the fact that your sister obviously likes/loves him enough to spend the holidays with him means that there's something she finds okay about him.

In a way, by rejecting her choice in partner outright, you're considering yourself a better judge of character and better positioned to decide what's right for your sister than your sister is, and that's kind of a terrible way to approach a relationship with anyone.
posted by xingcat at 6:47 AM on December 14, 2013 [23 favorites]

Hm, interesting that you seem to dislike the guy so much. He sounds really shy and awkward, but I don't know why that alone is inspiring such loathing.

Anyway, I suggest that you actually take your father's advice. If you spend enough time around the guy and open your mind to the fact that he is who he is, maybe he'll open up to you a lot more. Whether you're trying to hide it or not, he might be able to sense how you feel about him and for an awkward guy like that, that negativity will be an insurmountable wall between you. Take that wall down.
posted by johnpoe50 at 6:47 AM on December 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

The guy sounds socially awkward and/or anxious, but I'm not seeing what makes him so loathsome. (The toast thing is weird, but I could even see that as trying to make conversation - "Did you know that in olden days people thought it was rude to toast with water?") Sounds to me like you need to grit your teeth through the tree and Christmas dinner, and hide at other times if you need to. If you're all going to be in the same house for a week, you should be able to get some alone-with-sister time - just announce you're having a "girls' night out" or whatever.
posted by Daily Alice at 6:47 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

it doesn't seem weird to me that he'll be on your sister's hip while he's visiting her home for christmas. it can be a pretty big sacrifice to not spend that time with his own family. he's showing your sister a kindness and that he's accepting of how much her family means to her. imagine if roles were reversed and she was at his family's for christmas -you'd get no time with her. also, imagine if his sibling expected her to just go entertain herself for a while so they got some solo sibling time. you'd probably not look very favorably upon him for dragging your sister to a strange town and then abandoning her there to hang out with other people.

a good way to keep a bad match together is to (vocally or non-vocally) disapprove of their union - it creates an us vs them dynamic that can keep things together for years after they should be over. i've been in both positions - disapproving of a romantic pairing, and as part of ill advised pairings that everyone i loved hated. whether you vocalize it or not - not coming around, not hanging out with her just because he's in the room poking at his phone, etc - will send a strong message.

besides being rude about the toast, he doesn't sound impossible to be around. if he generally ignores you and doesn't want to interact that seems better than the opposite - you can still have time with your sister without him monopolizing every conversation. just pretend he's a sullen teenager and ignore him.
posted by nadawi at 6:48 AM on December 14, 2013 [25 favorites]

"First, I want to say that I know who my sister dates is ultimately none of my business and I would never tell her what I think of her boyfriend unless asked point blank, but I don't think he is right for her at all."

You're right who your sister dates isn't really any of your business. The only person you will hurt by being rude to the boyfriend is her. Be nice if only for the sake of your sister.
posted by JIMSMITH2000 at 6:50 AM on December 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

He sounds like lots of people I'm friends with and several of the (perfectly nice if a little difficult) people I've dated. Awkward and anxious, silent because he doesn't feel like he has anything to contribute, and then blurting out random weird facts or anecdotes that come across badly. Reading this question is actually making me wonder what some of my family must think of a few of the people I've brought home for holidays.

Interacting amicably with groups of strangers -- PARTICULARLY important groups of strangers, like a girlfriend's family -- is a learned skill for most people. I learned it, despite being kind of a weirdo nerd, because my mom spent a huge ammount of time teaching me when I was young. This worked because the learning period took place while I was a kid and didn't really understand how bad at it I was, so I wasn't crippled with self-consciousness.

If you make it to adulthood never having learned how to socialize with people you aren't close to....well, you end up coming across like your sister's boyfriend.

I would suggest making a genuine effort to assume that he's unhappy and anxious and trying his best, however unsatisfactory his "best" may be. Try to give him the benefit of the doubt. Enlist your sister's help in figuring out how to get him to relax a little so you can have a real conversation. Try not to let your irritation harden into resentment -- it's really tough to come back from that place.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:00 AM on December 14, 2013 [33 favorites]

I have, more than once, had the experience of really disliking a good friend's SO but eventually becoming good friends with them in my own right. When this happens, I always look back and am ashamed of how judgmental and unwelcoming I was, at least in my own head. To the best of your ability, taking your father's advice and trying to connect with him is probably the best choice.

In your situation, there are a few things I might try. First, your sister probably knows her boyfriend is somewhat socially awkward. It's no secret. So you might talk to her about ways you can connect with him. "Hey, sis, I'd like to get to know Boyfriend better when the two of you are here. Do you have any thoughts about things we might have in common? Advice about how to talk to him?" I am dating someone on the autism spectrum right now, and while her social skills are very good in general, she is perfectly well aware that she misses non-verbal cues; tends not to recognize rhetorical questions as such; and is a bit too committed to being right about everything. Your sister and her boyfriend may be perfectly aware of his social deficits and she may be able to help you navigate them. And that might be anything from, "He's really happiest left to play on his phone in the corner," to "he might enjoy watching X TV show together."

Your sister might appreciate you expressing a desire to better connect with boyfriend, and she may be able to give advice, or at least insight into why he behaves as he does, that will make this time together better and begin to build a foundation for the years together you may have.

Another thing I would do is be honest with your sister about your desire to have some time just with her. "Hey, Sis, I'm really looking forward to seeing you and Boyfriend together at Christmas time, but I miss having time together just the two of us. Any chance we could find time to go out to lunch together one day?" Boyfriend may not know anyone but your sister, but it's perfectly reasonable for an SO on a trip home to see family to entertain himself for a few hours while his girlfriend spends time with old friends. But your sister might not make the effort for this to happen unless she knows it's something you want.
posted by not that girl at 7:04 AM on December 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

It's really hard when you don't like the partner of someone you care about. I'm not crazy about my own sister's husband, but it sounds much worse for you as my sister and I weren't as close as you and yours to begin with. It doesn't really matter why you don't like him - the fact is you don't and that's ok. Some people we just don't like and that's part of life. It just sucks when you can't escape them.

I'd say you'll have to grit your teeth and bear it unfortunately. If you avoid him you'll be avoiding your sister, which means you lose out on time with her. This might not sound like good advice, but what me and my mum have found is that it helps to be able to let off a bit of steam together after a visit with sister's SO. So during time with him it might help you to "save up" the stuff he does that annoys or upsets you, so you can set it aside for later and just continue being as pleasant as you can be in the moment. Then at some point you and your "ally" (if there's another family member you think might feel the same) can go for a walk and just do a little harmless venting: "Can you believe he barely spoke to me at my own party, and then called me rude?!" Then you can go back in feeling a bit relieved of the tension, without having to cause any confrontation with him or your sister.

And do ask her if you can have at least one night or afternoon where it's just the two of you hanging out. That way you have something to look forward to when you're feeling a bit sad that you've lost the time with her that you used to have. Good luck!
posted by billiebee at 7:05 AM on December 14, 2013

Eh, OP didn't say he doesn't talk to them, OP said he won't shut up about himself and refuses to engage with people otherwise. Maybe he's just awkward, maybe he's both awkward and a douchecanoe, it's not unheard of.

It still doesn't really change much for you, though, OP. On the whole, I nth the teeth-gritting for the sake of your sister.

But I would add --- is there some girly activity you might take advantage of to get an hour or two with her alone during her stay? Manicure, facial, high tea, watching of Love Actually or something? Not that dudes can't enjoy such activities (or that all women do), but many don't, and you might be able to score some bonding time while he goes shopping or otherwise kills time. Making it a girly-girl thing will give you a polite way to exclude him, and you might be able to stand him better for the rest of the visit if you have at least one chance to hang with your sister on your terms.

It's entirely possible that both you and your sister don't enjoy anything like that, of course. There may be some other hobby or interest you share which could stand in in a similar way.
posted by Diablevert at 7:14 AM on December 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

I wonder if your best bet is to act as if his in-law status is already a given. That means closing up the bad boyfriend evidence locker, sure, but it also means you can free yourself of some of the burdens of hospitality. If he's tapping away on his phone while everyone else is having a good time or he's fleeing conversations, let him do his thing. If he's monopolizing conversation or saying things that could be perceived as confrontational, deflect him like you would a family member. If you're talking with your sister and you're saying things that aren't deep secrets and he happens to be sitting there, consider that it might be an ok thing to do. In the end, moving him closer by a social notch can make asking for some sister-alone time less difficult, too.

If he and your sister break up, none of that is stuff you have to take back. If they don't, it might help everyone start relaxing a little more.
posted by gnomeloaf at 7:24 AM on December 14, 2013 [21 favorites]

"They are not equals in the relationship (esp. emotionally and intellectually)"

If he knows, suspects or even imagines that you feel like this, then it's not surprising he finds it hard to interact with your family. As an outsider, particularly of a family that's very close, it's very, very easy to pick up on even the slightest hint of disapproval, however much it's hidden. I know exactly what this feels like - my husband's family all think I'm his intellectual inferior - and when I'm around them I can't help but be awkward and silent too.

I have, however, also been in your position - a few years back I couldn't stand my brother's wife - so I can sympathise with you too. What I did find was that once I'd accepted she was part of the family and tried liking her for who she was rather than wishing she was the sort of person I would have chosen for my brother, we did actually get on okay. I mean, we're never going to be BFFs or anything, and I have to accept that my days of spending time with my brother on his own are over, but things are much easier now. Once you accept he's sticking around and stop wishing he was different, I really do think things will get better for you all.
posted by raspberry-ripple at 7:30 AM on December 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

You don't have to like your sister's boyfriend. You don't have to hide that from your sister. You do have to be polite to him while you are all guests in your parents's house.

Why not ask your sister, "I'd love to get some 'sissy time' with you. Let's just you and I grab lunch and do X. Ben can fend for himself for an afternoon." I can't see her saying no. If she proposes he come along, simply say, "I don't think it's so weird to want some time alone with you.. I don't really click with Ben, so if my options are a threesome or nothing, I'd rather skip it."

You can try talking to Ben, or even engaging him where he lives. For example, building off the toast thing, "Do you really think I was rude, or are you quoting an old etiquette thing? I'm pretty sure that everyone else knows that my intentions weren't rude." See where it goes. If he becomes a pedantic asshole, it's simple enough to say, "I don't see it that way, I don't think anyone but you sees it that way. Let's agree to disagree."

Part of that loathing you feel is you stifling your natural responses, to spare your sister. At this stage, the dude is like a family member. You don't have to be on your best behavior. You can treat him like any other douchebag relative. "Uncle Seymour, that's racist!"

Disagreeing with people shouldn't start fights, if you do it respectfully.

Don't let this build up until you explode, that does NO ONE any good.

My sister had a boyfriend that no one in our family clicked with. He could be kind of a selfish jerk sometimes and my sister ended it with him, although they remained friends. Dude shows up to random family functions once in a blue moon. He's harmless if a bit odd, so we tolerate him. We all kind of wonder what he gets out of it, but at the end of the day, it's easy enough to roll with it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:35 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I understand how you might not find him your cup of tea, but a lot of this sounds like shyness and/or awkwardness to me. You say you only met him a year or so ago and you only see your sister a couple times a year, so you really haven't had a long time to get to know him. Some people take longer than that. As far as talking about himself ... yeah, well, some people yammer when they're nervous, some people clam up, some people don't even hear themselves. Some people talk too much. (I am one of them.)

The fact that you've made an effort is admirable, that's great. But ... I've certainly had moments when I haven't understood what people see in each other (I think we all have), and sometimes you figure it out later, and sometimes you never do, both with people who stay together and with people who don't.

I implore you: do not absent yourself. Do not break away from your sister or hide from her because her boyfriend is kind of a clod. This is my advice for two reasons: (1) You will hurt your sister when she doesn't deserve it as well as hurting yourself, and (2) you will lose. I know it is not your intention to set yourself in opposition to her boyfriend and make her choose, but she will feel it, and if it's you in tension with someone she's been with for four years, you will lose. Not because she doesn't love you, but because you will appear to be creating the tension, and he's there every day and you're not. Grit your teeth because you love your sister. Look for opportunities to spend one-on-one time with her. Not digging him does not have to be this big of a deal; you can spend time with her, and you will probably get glimmers over time of why she loves him. It takes more time than this. Please do not absent yourself.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:35 AM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

She's your sister, you have a good relationship, so who she dates and telling her your opinion is damn well your business. Think about how many metafilter questions are from women in abusive relationships who don't realize the extent of the abuse. She is a smart independent adult, so even if everyone hates him they will likely not tell her because she seems happy with him.
Getting a few hours alone with her to talk should not be optional, it is a must. Use the time to find out whats really going on with the relationship. He might be just a socially awkward good guy that you don't understand, or he may be an abusive ahole who has started to isolate your sister from her family. If he is horrible, you will need to redouble your efforts to remain close to her so that she has you to help her get free of him.
posted by Sophont at 7:37 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh man. My sister and I have been there, done that. First it was her boyfriend. Then it was my boyfriend. Rinse, repeat.

You just gotta be kind and inclusive. Nothing shows off what an ass he's being like being accommodating and nice and familial towards him. Reach deep inside and find that well of love for your sister and direct it his way during the whole visit.

He probably won't be around forever. If he is, cross that bridge when you come to it. For now, focus on being the best sister ever. And that means being welcoming to the boyfriend.

(Also, it helps to have a friend who you can call at any time and complain to. Yes, that is like a lifeline to the world. Designate such a friend and you will be able to constantly renew your grace towards this man in your sister's life.)
posted by whimsicalnymph at 7:37 AM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

My husband's parents visit us twice a year and the visits are pretty stressful. They like me and treat me well but they are not kind to Mr. Ant. When they're here I go into Super Hostess mode. I shelve my own preferences and focus on making the visit go smoothly. I try to keep myself a neutral outsider and pay attention to my facial expressions. It's not a great deal of fun but I don't get swept up in the ugliness (and can ratchet it down) if I'm sheepdogging the situation. What can I say - I'm a Border Collie at heart.
posted by workerant at 7:38 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

You clearly loath him, as most of what you are describing about his holiday visit is very very normal. Him not having friends in your town? Him staying with your family? Ummm. That's what most 4 year partners would do in this situation. Yet you are discussing it as if the end-times are nigh.

You say that developing a reliable social network has been hard for your sister, yet you fault this guy for the same thing.

This dude will in all likelihood be your Brother-in-Law soon. In my personal experience and in hundreds of similar AskMe's no family member/close friend has ever successfully talked another out of long term relationship. If forced to take sides people always always choose the person they are having sex with.

Accepting that you have No agency in this might be a good start in learning to relax and accept him as part of your family. Because that's what he is. You don't get to pick the family you start with and you don't get to pick who gets added to it. You're only choice it to be a part of it or not.
posted by French Fry at 7:42 AM on December 14, 2013 [22 favorites]

I'm not saying he's not horrid (because it's impossible to tell either way from your description, and you can can definitely be both socially challenged and actually horrid) but it sounds like conversation is a major challenge for him. Can you spend time with him that doesn't involve conversation?

What are some of his hobbies and activities he likes to do? When he's just at home with your sister they probably don't just sit there staring at the wall and twiddling their thumbs, right? He's got to do something. He might be into video games or movies or bird watching or any number of things. Can you do a couple of those things with him when he comes over?

About his self-centeredness in conversation, is it possible that he has hearing problems? That is kind of a well-known thing that happens with a lot of elderly people, when they start losing their hearing, they don't want to admit it, but still want to participate in conversation even if they can't really hear the other person. So it's easier to just kind of monologue.

Or, is it possible that he has difficulty processing/retaining information that comes to him by sound? That is definitely true of me. In many math classes, for example, I've learned almost entirely by ignoring the lecture and working through the textbook. If I had to learn by lecture alone I would try to record it so I could listen to it a bunch of times; once would not cut it at all.

So that makes me think if you want to get to know him better so these meetings are less awkward, it might be easier for him to do it via email? Just simple things, like if you know he is interested in a particular topic you can forward him an interesting link about it and ask for his thoughts.
posted by cairdeas at 7:42 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also --

will even flee from the room if it is just him and my father in it

I apologize if this suggestion is totally irrelevant for you guys. But is your family a different culture than this boyfriend? Like is he a WASP and you guys are Korean or Italian or some culture where outsiders think you're supposed to be afraid of your girlfriend's father? If that is the case, it might be that he is really nervous about doing the right thing and unsure about what that is. So he might feel like it's better for him to just hide in the other room and not say anything at all. If there is an element of that going on, he might loosen up on his own just as he gets to know you all more.
posted by cairdeas at 7:51 AM on December 14, 2013

This might not be good advice, but if you speak against him it will probably backfire. However, if you treat him well with consistent and excessive hospitality his obnoxious behavior might stand out more to your sister.
posted by Teakettle at 8:07 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I really value the time we spend hanging out… time that we’re not going to have because the boyfriend is always going to be there

Simply ask her "Hey, can me and you get some alone sister time? I only get to see you a few times a year and really forward to some one on one time with you. How much lunch and movie/musuem/something?"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:18 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Please don't let some of these answers make you feel bad about asking this question. You don't need to justify why you don't like this guy. You've met him, we haven't.

I recently found myself in a similar situation hosting a relative and his then-girlfriend for a weekend. A lot of this sounds familiar to me, especially the constant attention to the smartphone rather than other people and the lack of interest in other people's lives. Here are a few ways I coped with it:

- Tried to suggest activities that were more interactive, and less just sitting around talking. Playing a board game or video game (try to pick one that's not super competitive), going for a hike, watching a movie, or even just going to Target together (we needed to pick up some supplies and this dumb trip to Target was actually one of the most lighthearted events of the weekend) can break the ice because the focus isn't on the participants so much as on the activity. You can still get to know people and joke around, but it tends to make everyone more relaxed. Even just driving in a car can be a decent time to get to know people who are uncomfortable with formal, face-to-face, eye-contact-required conversation.

- Tried to find the least common denominator. The relative in question has esoteric tastes and interests, and his girlfriend was more conventional (for lack of a better word). So, when possible, I tried to keep the conversation on more comfortable and accessible topics rather than talk at length about TV shows she'd never heard of and books she'll never read. It can be alienating enough just to be around a different family--there are so many in-jokes and years and years of history and special customs and even lexicons develop. The more familiar you can make the environment seem, the more comfortable he will likely be, and you will very likely find you tolerate him a lot better.

- Tried to see the good things. When I was starting to get frustrated with the girlfriend, I mentally asked myself, "What is my favorite thing about her?" It helped me look for the positives, and I realized that while she had talked about herself and her family a lot, a lot of those stories revealed that she was a truly generous and caring person.

- Tried not to take it personally. This was tough, like when I went out of my way to do a favor for her and she didn't say thank you, or in your case the comment about the water toast. Unless you have reason to believe otherwise, just try to chalk it up to social awkwardness or cluelessness rather than actual malevolence, because it really probably isn't.

Specifically on the phone thing, it may help if you have a relative who can lightheartedly ban cell phones during dinner (or whenever) without making it obvious that it's about the boyfriend.
posted by payoto at 8:32 AM on December 14, 2013 [17 favorites]

I have to deal with a few people like this. My tactic: Ignore them/avoid them when possible, without making it obvious. You say this guy doesn't really engage, so he should be easy to politely ignore most of the time. When he does engage, he only blathers about himself. Also easy to politely ignore. Look pleasantly at him and let your mind wander as if you were spacing out while watching "The View" in a doctor's waiting room. I find people like this simply ignore any input you offer, no matter how friendly/validating/relevant. You may as well shut up and maintain a benign expression while you cultivate your own private pleasant thoughts.

If he pipes up with rude comments, you certainly have the right to respond, but it sounds like engaging isn't likely to get you anywhere. Your call, I guess; do whatever will ruffle your feathers least, and don't concern yourself with schooling him. Not your job. Maybe you can somehow condition yourself to treat these comments as blurted-out thoughts from a developmentally disabled person, which in a way they are, and let 'em roll by.

I get the sense that your biggest problem is why your beloved sister has fallen for an irritating and socially inept jerk. Well, have you considered that she... er.... nah, I got nothing. I wonder the same thing about people in my family. I guess I'm old enough now to focus more on coping skills to give me peace of mind and less on the inscrutable decisions of family members. That way madness lies.
posted by ROTFL at 8:40 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don’t know what else I can do about this though.

You can find your big girl pants and suck it up. "My sister's boyfriend is a total wet blanket so I can't hang out with my sister alone any more and must create passive aggressive drama by Fleeing the Family Home Over Christmas" is ridiculous.

The only legitimate reason for that is when your choices are either furious confrontation or absenting yourself. It's not like he's making racist comments at the dinner table or getting regularly, obnoxiously drunk or telling sexist jokes -- all of which would be the traditional reasons to have it out or run for the hills in this kind of situation. You just... dislike him. And, clearly, you resent him.

Whether he has pronounced social anxiety or very shy or really is a drip or whatever, you just have to be nice to him and try to extend yourself to him. Talk to your sister and find out if there's anything he might take part in, like specific card games or board games or baking or charades or anything. Ask for her help in making sure the boyfriend "has a great Christmas" with all of you.

And it's totally fine to ask her if the two of you can have some alone time; go have lunch or book pedicures or something.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:47 AM on December 14, 2013 [11 favorites]

I just wanted to add that, looking at the specific issue of this Christmas rather than the bigger picture, is there any chance of renegotiating the details of this plan? I sort of feel like your sister is expecting rather a lot of both her boyfriend, in making him spend a week with a family he's clearly uncomfortable around when (I imagine) he'd much rather be with his own family, and your family, in making them put up with (or at least, entertain) someone who sounds like they can be quite hard work for such a long time. I realise she lives a long way away, but does he need to be there for a whole week? In my experience, tensions like this are easily managed when the parties involved experience each other in small doses, but forcing them to spend long periods of time together sometimes makes things considerably worse.
posted by raspberry-ripple at 9:13 AM on December 14, 2013

Don't run and hide. Shut up and deal.

They're a package this holiday, you want to hang with your sister, and you don't want to be rude because that will damage your relationship with your sister. So you put on your big girl pants and act like an adult, which sometimes entails spending time with (and being polite to) people you don't much care for.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:19 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't run away. This might be the xmas that he has a breakthrough. Sometimes it takes time with people, you know?

As a socially anxious person, I live in constant fear that my social bearing is cold, distant, and assholish, and so I try to give the benefit of the doubt to people who aren't immediately warm to me. Just like wild animals, sometimes people are more scared of you than you are scared of them.

And +100 to activities as DarlingBri and payoto suggest.
posted by Sauce Trough at 9:35 AM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

I am going to go against the crowd here and say you SHOULD have a conversation with your sister about this. A polite conversation. Don't say you don't like the guy, but mention that you wonder if he's uncomfortable around your family, and ask what you personally can do to make it better.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:46 AM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

It sounds like he's an annoying but ultimately harmless guy, rather than someone who's genuinely bad for your sister and your family. That's good news, but the flip side of that is that sometimes it makes the frustration feel that much worse. I get it; I've been stuck in situations with That Guy Who Just Sucks before. As a shy awkward outsider, I've probably been that guy myself.

You are under no obligation to like him, but learning to tolerate him will make your life so much easier, especially if he's going to be in the picture for years to come. At least a few times this Christmas, start a friendly conversation with him with the explicit goal of not letting yourself get aggravated, even if he is a sucky conversationalist. They can be short conversations. The thing is, when you don't like someone, whenever you engage with them you're already coming into the conversation from a place of dislike, and whatever they do will add fuel to it. If you can let go of that preemptive frustration, you'll be able to spend more time with him without things boiling over.

This advice probably sounds like an overly simplistic "well, have you tried not hating him?" but the truth of the matter is we have more control over our feelings and reactions than we give ourselves credit for. Identify when you're getting frustrated with this guy, and practice cooling off. It's worked for me with some "dear god not this asshole again" people.

And do make plans for some girl time with your sister. It's absolutely fine for you to do that! Plus it'll give the boyfriend some needed practice on being a good guest without sticking to your sister like a barnacle.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:54 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just interact with your sister like normal and if he does something rude/weird/untoward be like, "whoa, what the hell, dude!" Nothing wrong with lightheartedly pointing out when someone is being a doucherocket. You can point things out in a way that makes them feel included, by being upfront.

If you're talking to your sister and he wanders off to go hide, and she looks nervous or upset, be like, "what's up?" and if she wants to talk about it she will. Everybody is defending this guy but he sounds like a turd-- doesn't want to do any of the social/emotional work of the relationship and lays it all on your sister. I know what that's like because that used to be me... and then I turned 16. And grew up. You're going to have to be a little nicey nice about it to not entirely upset your sister but nowhere is it written that we have to explicitly endorse the unequal relationships people burden themselves with, or lie about it.

Every time someone I know has started dating a douchebag, everyone says "be nice to the douchebag! Show your friend/sister/whatever that you care about them by trying!" But inevitably the douchebag does their work and friend/sister/whatever slowly fades away, either explicitly told not to hang out with anyone else or that they don't like your friend/sister/whatever's friends/sisters/whatevers, and you're in the same situation except you were never honest to the person that you love. Honesty can cause feuds if you're totally uncompromising about it, but it's also healthy every once in awhile-- tell your sister you're not a fan of how he's treating her from what you can tell but you also want to know what she sees in him and break through that wall.

You know your sister best. Don't drive her away from the family, but don't bend yourself in a pretzel for a shithead who insults strangers. When your sister talks to you about it, act curious above all.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:37 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

(I agree with Metroid Baby that just talking to him through the bullshit will help. It's OK to think of him as your sister's douchebag boyfriend, just talk to him, even kind of torment him ("hey what's that? What are you doing on your phone? Must be pretty interesting..."), he will hate it and might find you annoying but it will create intimacy.)

And sister time is totally OK. Last time I visited home w/ my boyfriend I went to an all-girl baby shower and my boyfriend stayed home with my dad and grilled burgers and drank beer and watched some movie about cars. It's normal. I used to spend days alone with just my ex-boyfriend's mom. It's healthy to learn how to do these things, even if he is too self-centered to be thinking about being socially healthy for your sister.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:41 AM on December 14, 2013

Last post, but I say this as a girl with painfully bad social anxiety who starts to shake and stutter and runs out of things to say about two sentences in to most conversations with strangers. If he's old enough to date someone getting a PhD, he's old enough to learn to deal with his social anxiety.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:49 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

In addition to some of the above suggestions, I'd work on making specific plans to go visit your sister in her state in the coming year. It sounds like you're feeling resentful that the boyfriend is taking away "your" time with your sister; you have control over spending more time with her at other times of the year, so use it and stop blaming the boyfriend for that aspect of it.
posted by jaguar at 10:58 AM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

He's introverted. There's nothing wrong with his behavior, but he can tell you don't like him and that's making his natural aversion to talking to people he doesn't know well worse.

Why don't you go for a walk with him and talk to the guy one to one.
posted by empath at 11:12 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

It really sounds as if he suffers from social anxiety. As a fellow sufferer, I'm sure my husband's family initially found me to be kind of . . . weird. But they were kind and accepting, and now I consider my husband's sister, whom I love dearly, to be a close friend. So, keep an open mind about this guy. It might take a while, but you could eventually see in him what your sister apparently sees.
posted by merejane at 11:18 AM on December 14, 2013

It sounds like this guy is terrified :) It would be a bit of a project to get him to relax enough that he could be his best self around you (and especially around your father).
posted by amtho at 11:21 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another vote for activities. Both group activities so that he can perhaps be less awkward with the fam and some solo girl-time activities for one-on-on time with your sister.

Like a lot of the answerers, I can't tell if there's really anything wrong with this guy or not. But what you have to deal with is not what he is, but what your sister believes him to be.

Good luck. Stiff upper lip. Settlers of Catan. Formal hikes. Whatever it takes. If you can possibly create a situation where you, sis, and sis's BF have a project such as cooking two pies and a ham or grooming the dogs or otherwise accomplish something as a team, that could be great. (Or something you know to never ever do again.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:56 AM on December 14, 2013

The nicer you are to him, the easier this is going to be for everyone. I agree with whoever said you should just treat him like family. If he was your brother in law, and he was fiddling with his phone, you'd let him be and just chat with your sister anyway, right? Do that.

He'll either continue to suck, or get more comfortable and be nicer. If he gets nicer, great! And if he continues to suck, your best chance for getting your sister to notice that on her own, and not think it's them-against-the-family, is if you have been super nice to him.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:23 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Speaking as someone who is pretty awkward around the in-laws I rarely see, echoing the chorus for activities. I am much, much happier when there is A Thing To Do, whether it's making sure my part of the holiday dinner gets done, or going on a hike, or taking the photos of the clan gathering, or whatever. Sitting with nothing to do with my nice, but also introverted in-laws (who are mostly occupied with kid-wrangling) is a recipe for my husband and I to start playing with the smartphone and checking out. I also find that having something to do makes it easier for me to deal with people I'm not crazy about, so it may help both your sanity and make the boyfriend a happier person. For moments when he's driving you super-crazy, you can volunteer to do the dishes or walk the dog or something so that you get out of his airspace for a bit, and no one will think twice.

That said, I also don't see anything wrong with asking your sister for some time alone; I try to give my husband some alone time with his brother(s) when we go to see his relatives, and an hour or two is pretty reasonable to find a way to schedule.
posted by tautological at 12:55 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Go out with your sister for lunch and a pedicure one afternoon and spend the rest of the time drinking. Boyfriend might loosen up a little after a couple drinks and if he doesn't, who cares, because that hot toddy you just had was delicious and you are feeling no pain. It is a cliche for a reason.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:03 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Wow, I just got through a holiday with my boyfriend meeting my extended family for the first time. He was pretty nervous but, from my point of view, things went really well. At times, he had to go off to have some down time alone. I would hate to think that everyone now thinks that he and I shouldn't be together because he "fled the room" on occasion!

my sister has complained that she frequently feels that she needs to make sure everyone in her social group is having fun, but doesn't seem to connect that with him.

Um. I don't connect that with him either. I have the same issue. Big social events wear me out because I am a people pleaser and I get anxious when people might not be having fun. This sounds like something your sister is doing to herself, and not anything related to her boyfriend.

Maybe reading a previous question of mine might help you see how your sister might be feeling.
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:32 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to point out, noticing lots of gendered answers, that we don't know at all if the OP is male or female.
posted by cairdeas at 3:34 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

You come from a tough family. You may not realize it, but you do. You've got high, high standards for your sister (some mental image of what an intellectual / emotional /social "equal" for her would look like). You seem upset that she's falling short of them. It's just possible that she finds it a welcome relief to be with someone more open and accepting than her family of origin. He's nervous around you all? Who wouldn't be? It must come through loud and clear that you're not kindly disposed to him.

He's probably talking about himself in an effort to reveal more of who he is and find a connection with you -- or perhaps fill a frosty silence that can be very uncomfortable. A great response would be to show some interest in what he's saying, ask further questions, and share some of your own stories so you can actually get to know each other and he can stop trying so hard to find a way in.

Find a little holiday spirit here. The most important question of all for you to be considering is your sister happy? Is she doing what she wants with her life? And the second most important: how can you let her know you love her and support her no matter what, and no matter who, she's with?
posted by Miko at 9:46 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

You need to deal with it. Otherwise you will make your sister miserable. My guess is you're not hiding this very well, and you need to do better.

Here's what happened to me in a similar situation. A very close friend of mine had a boyfriend I proudly told other friends that I "loathed," just like you're saying here. I thought she was awesome and he was a jerk. He talked a lot about himself, flashed around his fancy (fake) Rolodex, and seemed to me boorish. I thought she deserved better, and that I knew the type of guy she should be dating, and it was not him. Eventually they got married, and I skipped the wedding because I felt like I couldn't genuinely be happy for her, and it'd leak during the festivities.

Fast-forward ten years. Today, I love the guy! I think he's kind and hard-working and joyful, and they have built a beautiful life together. It took me a long time to warm up to him, but eventually I realized that a lot of my initial reaction was class-based and gross (he was from a poor family and had done well for himself and didn't have the old-money reticence, which I read as crass), and that he is actually a super-nice guy. My dislike of him had indeed leaked in the beginning, which I realized later had probably made him nervous --- he loved her and wanted to be accepted by her friends, and so his desire to impress people like me made him appear to me to be bragging. And eventually I came to a place where I could acknowledge that my friend herself has different values and goals and dreams than I do, which leads her to value different things in a partner than I do. I had been imposing my values on her and guess what: that was disrespectful and wrong.

My only regret is that I skipped the wedding, because today I wish I had shared that experience with them. I am glad that I handled not going in a non-jerkish fashion: it was an expensive destination wedding, which made it possible for me to get out of it semi-gracefully, which I did. I am *really* glad I never made my dislike of him explicit to either of them. I'm sure they knew it, and I'm grateful they had the grace to ignore it until I got over myself.

If you're lucky, something similar will happen for you.
posted by Susan PG at 10:39 PM on December 14, 2013 [9 favorites]

I'll add also that I am afraid I've played the role of the boyfriend in this scenario, as well. I was once in a serious relationship with a guy who came from a closeknit family that was culturally different from mine. They saw each other frequently, were all extroverted, majority-male, liked sports, and that kind of thing. I am introverted and bookish, and I spent my fair share of Christmas holiday time alone on the sofa fiddling with my phone. I also probably talked too much about myself, which I'll excuse as a mix of faux-extrovert flailing plus just really being quite desperate to make an emotional connection with people I couldn't easily relate to.

I found the whole thing difficult. For what its worth, if my then-boyfriend had gone out for one-on-one time with his brother and left me home with the rest of the family, then I (rightly or wrongly) would've felt abandoned and aggrieved. Just a data point :-)
posted by Susan PG at 11:04 PM on December 14, 2013 [10 favorites]

I would also be miffed if I was left alone while my partner and his brother went off while I visited for a week. I would expect that they made other time to catch up if I had made the (not inconsiderable) effort to visit for a week at a fairly early stage in the relationship.

I have 5 older sisters and had the experience, one by one, of seeing them stop hanging primarily around with me at family events, and instead, hang around with partners. This was a little sad every time, but I also think it is part of them growing up and starting their own families, and experiencing the romance of the relationship with their new partner. My sisters and i are older now and they are not so besotted and we are more keen to spend time with each other at family events. On the other hand, they have kids now too which takes up lots of their time. I think this is quite normal and you are probably best to expect less from your sister than you did previously, rather than trying to fight it.
posted by jojobobo at 9:31 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a hard situation, and I'm guessing that your sister is already very aware of it.* She has no doubt noticed that her partner is awkward and nervous and anxious around your family, and she has no doubt noticed that you don't like him. She is probably getting anxious and worried about the Christmas holidays and bringing him home with her. Your best course of action is to seriously try harder to make her partner feel comfortable. He no doubt has picked up on your dislike and resentment of him, and that is probably making him all the more awkward and uncomfortable and really not wanting to be left alone without his partner (your sister) as he probably sees her as his only ally in a house of people who don't like him. Seriously. Why the hell would he want to spend time alone with people who clearly don't like him and resent his being there? Put yourself in his shoes.

Your sister loves him, she has been with him for four years, and she is serious enough to bring him home for Christmas. This guy is not going away any time soon. Hit the reset button on everything you feel about him and think about him. Meet him for the first time this christmas. Keep an open mind. Remember that he is spending his christmas with people other than his family. Remember that he loves your sister.

*I have two older sisters and I was the first to bring a partner home for Christmas, just two years ago. It was the first time Christmas wasn't just me, my sisters, and my parents and I felt a bit guilty for being the one to change the Christmas tradition. The first year it was okay. My family went to great lengths to make sure my then-boyfriend felt welcomed and part of the family. They made a point of just treating him as family, they took him off the "guest filter". I was horrified the first time my sister let out a huge fart in front of him, but frankly it helped him to feel like "Okay, they are comfortable having me here".

Year two (last year) was different though. We were fairly newly engaged and this year we had custody of my partner's son, so he came down too. This brought in a whole other level of Christmas tradition change. It is one thing to add in another adult. It is something different to add in a 5 year old. Suddenly bed times and bad words and car seats were things that had to be considered, and I was much less available/free to spend a ton of time with just me and my sisters. My eldest sister got upset and resentful. Not hugely, and not in a big drama creating way. She was just really disappointed and upset that I wasn't able to spend a ton of time playing 45's and Scrabble. She was disappointed and upset that my attention and time was divided. Part of the problem I think was that she hadn't really understood/accepted that I was a step parent and that I had responsibilities to that effect, I couldn't (and didn't want to) leave all the parent-y stuff to my partner, I had a role to play as well. I tried to carve out some time for just me and my sisters, but she apparently didn't feel it was enough. I felt guilty over it, but I also was kind of offended. I picked up on all of this and it made me feel like she was resenting my family, like she was resenting the fact that I had more family than just them. I didn't like being made to feel guilty for being in a relationship.

This friday is year three of sharing Christmas with me and my partner. No kid this year, his bio-mom has custody of him, so just adults. And we're married now, so maybe that helps. I don't know. Also, this year my middle sister is bringing home HER partner, which will change things even more. I have no idea how my eldest sister is going to feel this year. I won't lie, I'm worried about it, but at least this time it won't be entirely my fault since my other sister is adding to the changes.

My point in telling all this is that your attitude is affecting your sister. She is almost definitely picking up on your resentment and dislike of her partner, and it is probably really upsetting her. It sucks having your sibling resent you for being in a relationship. It sucks having your sibling not accept that you are a bit of a package deal, now.

posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:31 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

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